Researchers find link between irregular sleep and back pain

The researchers said they couldn’t be sure how one problem causes the other, but “it may be that the connection comes from a third biological factor that we still can’t point our finger to."

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December 14, 2014 18:07
2 minute read.
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Many adults suffer from lack of sleep and back pain, and University of Haifa researchers who collaborated with colleagues from Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center have linked the two ailments for the first time.

Dr. Ma’ayan Agmon of the university’s nursing department and Dr. Galit Armon of the psychology department, together with Prof. Shlomo Berliner and Prof. Yitzhak Shapira of Sourasky, discovered that lack of sleep actually leads to back pain.

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“Our findings point to the importance of integrated treatment for the two to prevent back pain and improve the quality of sleep,” the researchers said.

The risk of back pain rises significantly among people who suffer from sleep disturbances, they said, adding that they couldn’t be sure how one problem causes the other.

“It may [be] that the connection comes from a third biological factor that we still can’t point our finger to. One may be the fact that people with sleep problems describe their lives as being pressured, so the chronic lack of rest can lead to muscle tension. This can reduce the number of short rests in bodily activity and cause back pain,” they explained.

“After neutralizing other factors such as socioeconomic levels, lifestyles and more, we reached the conclusion that sleeplessness predicts back pain – but the opposite is not true,” Agmon and Armon said.

Between 60 percent and 80% of the adult population suffer from back pain at least some time in their lives, and for many, it is a chronic condition.



Such pain is the leading cause for workers’ compensation paid to employees – and in Europe, for example, this payment comprises 0.5% to 2% of the gross domestic product.

About 90% of those suffering from back pain have no other thing in common, but half of those complaining about back pain also reported suffering from sleeplessness – difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep at night – the researchers said.

A person’s sensitivity to pain rises if that person wakes up too early or spends hours awake instead of sleeping, and often feels pain simultaneously and more powerfully compared to other people.

A total of 2,131 people with an average age of 46 and an average educational level of 15.8 years in school who work an average of 9.6 hours a day were examined during routine employees’ health checkups at Sourasky.

Back pains were diagnosed in two ways – by checking medical histories during a visit to a doctor at least once in a year, and interviews that confirmed the continuation of back pains for at least three months.

The chances of employees in good general health suffering from sleep problems to have back pain are almost 150% higher than those who sleep well, the researchers found.

Among women, the link between sleeplessness and back pain is even greater.

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